Jon Hassell, the influential American avant-garde composer who invented the globally minded “fourth world” musical aesthetic, has died at age 84. In a sentence, his family said that the “iconic trumpeter, author and composer” died in the early morning hours of June 26, after just over a year of health complications.
In the spring of 2020, Hassell broke his leg in a fall in his recording studio and spent four months recovering in hospital, isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hassell “loved life and leaving this world was a struggle because there was so much more he wanted to share in music, philosophy and writing,” his family said. “It was his great joy to be able to compose and produce music until the end.”
Hassell’s debut album, Vernal Equinox from 1978, proposed his vision of the fourth world aesthetics, which he called “a unified primitive / futuristic sound combining characteristics of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques.”
“In those days, the days of the cold war, there was the first world and basically the unspoken second, which was the Soviet empire,” Hassell once said. “Anything outside of those two was called third world, and it usually referred to less developed countries. And those less developed countries were places where tradition was still alive and spirituality was inherent in their musical production, for lack of a better term. [Fourth world] it was like ‘3 +1’ “.
A critic of the New York Times wrote about a 1977 performance of Hassell: “His synthesis opens up new perspectives instead of simply rearranging the components of the old ones.”
In 1980, Hassell collaborated with Brian Eno on the album Fourth World, Vol 1: Possible Musics. In 2007, Eno wrote an essay titled The Debt I Owe Jon Hassell, in which he said: “If I had to name one overriding principle in Jon’s work, it would be respect: he looks at the world in all its momentary aspects. and evanescent moods with respect, and it shows in his music. “
Speaking to The Guardian last year, Hassell said he was proud of his influence on a younger generation of musicians who saw no boundaries between global musical styles. “The fourth world is something that says: I am aware of that, I am aware of this and this is what comes to me.”
Musicians from the left field of music paid tribute to Hassell. Drew Daniel de Matmos I thanked for “the glittering labyrinths” of his music. London-based experimental pop group Kero Kero Bonito named him after “major influence”. Zola Jesus said it had offered “a portal to so many other possible worlds.”
The Bug, aka British producer Kevin Martin, said it had been an honor to work with Hassell on a Techno Animal album, Martin’s group with Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick. “King of tone, space, and explorations of the fourth world, this world already seems more boring without you.”
Hassell was born in Memphis in 1937. “I’m proud to have come from the same place as the blues,” he said. He studied at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and moved to Cologne to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen, inspired by the German composer’s first electronic piece, Gesang der Jünglinge.
Among his colleagues were Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, who would found the Can group. Hassell told Billboard From his first experience taking acid at Schmidt’s house: “I remember being on the floor listening to Japanese gagaku music and watching the fibers of the carpet sway to the music.”
Hassell met minimalist composer Terry Riley while he was a fellow at the Buffalo Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York. In 1968, Hassell performed on the first recording of Riley’s hugely influential piece, In C.
“This American experience of being close to Terry and later La Monte Young was a great antidote to the European experience with Stockhausen,” he said. said Perfect Sound Forever in 1997. “Getting in touch with people who were concerned about feeling good through music, not just an intellectual exercise. It was more holistic. He spoke to the whole body. “
In Buffalo, Hassell befriended synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog, worked with Young, and studied in India with classical singer Pandit Pran Nath, learning the raga form on the trumpet. “Just above everything I have, I owe it to Pran Nath,” Hassell told Perfect Sound Forever.
The traditional music style, which he once compared to “sonic calligraphy,” influenced his approach to the fourth world. “I was not prepared to be the first raga trumpeter; He was too old to go that way. ” told the critic Geeta Dayal. “So I had to bring the things I loved: ‘Why can’t I put this together with this?'”
Hassell performed at the first Womad music festival in 1982. That decade, he would collaborate with the festival’s co-founder, Peter Gabriel, as well as Talking Heads, David Sylvian and Tears for Fears.
He intended to collaborate with Eno and David Byrne on the album that became My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Hassell couldn’t afford to fly to California to record and said he was “outraged” by the tapes Eno and Byrne sent him.
He told Perfect Sound Forever: “This was clearly a not too subtle appropriation of what I was doing about rock drum and bass. I thought it was very unethical and the fact that I was never credited, not even for being an inspiration, is a testament to the testosterone in the room at the time … This made the fight for my own musical identity in the market was even more difficult and I still find myself with the consequences of this arrogance. “
In the 1990s, Hassell collaborated with artists such as kd lang, Ani DiFranco, and often Ry Cooder, and continued to release his own albums. He founded the Ndeya record label, a Warp Records label.
His last album was 2020’s Seeing Through Sound, the second part of his 2018 album Listening to Pictures. Both releases explored Hassell’s “pentimento” music theory, a term he borrowed from painting that refers to images and shapes that have been painted into a finished work.
In interviews last year, Hassell said he was writing a book called The North and South of You. He told Billboard that it was an “analysis of our current situation in terms of our overemphasis on the north of us, the rational and the technological, rather than the south of us. North is logic, south is samba, and how much more of each would you rather have when it’s time to leave the planet?
Hassell’s family said he had left “many gifts” that they would share with fans in time to “support his enduring legacy.” Donations to a GoFundMe created by Brian Eno in 2020 to support him during his illness “would allow the tremendous personal archive of his music, very unpublished, to be preserved and shared with the world for years to come,” the family said, in addition to supporting “philanthropic donations from scholarships and contributions to issues close to Jon’s heart, such as supporting musicians’ labor rights ”.
The family said: “As Jon is now free from a constricted body, he is freed to be in his musical soul and will continue to play in the fourth world. We hope you find comfort in your words and dreams for this earthly place that you now leave behind. We hold him, and you, in this loss and pain. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism